The Velveteen Daughter
This carefully woven story is the fictionalised biography of Pamela Bianco, the daughter of Margery Williams Bianco, author of the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit. In her youth, Pamela was a world-famous child prodigy artist, feted by the likes of Picasso. Philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt became her self-appointed patron, gifting her a New York studio in her teens, and Pamela and her family were courted by many glittering stars in their contemporary society. Throughout her life, Pamela’s less famous mother is her touchstone and saviour, as far as anyone could be in this extraordinary set-up. But enviable patronage, undoubted talent and devoted mother could not protect Pamela from personal disasters, including depression and nervous breakdowns that contributed to her disappearance from the public eye.
Very little attention has been paid to either mother or daughter since their heyday, and much research was required before Huber could assemble the facts, faithfully adhered to in her telling of their story, with very little actual fiction added. What would have made a remarkable straight biography set in a golden but doomed age has been elevated by Huber’s ambitious approach into a poignant, thought-provoking and memorable historical novel. Parts of the story are told in Margery’s voice, others in Pamela’s, with small sections in the third person, across a non-linear structure hopping between three time-frames. Quotes are also woven in from Margery’s fiction.
I hope this beautifully written novel will trigger a revival of interest in Pamela Bianco’s art. The story also adds an almost unbearable poignancy to rereading Margery’s The Velveteen Rabbit and The Skin Horse. But even if you neither know nor care about the work of Margery or Pamela, this book is still an insightful moving story on the themes of love and parenthood, genius and art.